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Lectures on the

Lectures on the "I Ching": Constancy and Change

by Richard Wilhelm, Irene Eber (Translator)

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Wilhelm frequently wrote and lectured on the Book of Changes, supplying guidelines to its ideas and ways of thinking. Collected here are four lectures he gave between 1926 and 1929. The lectures are significant not only for what they reveal about Chinese tradition and culture, but also for their reflections of the scholarly and cultural milieu prevalent in Germany


Wilhelm frequently wrote and lectured on the Book of Changes, supplying guidelines to its ideas and ways of thinking. Collected here are four lectures he gave between 1926 and 1929. The lectures are significant not only for what they reveal about Chinese tradition and culture, but also for their reflections of the scholarly and cultural milieu prevalent in Germany during that time.

Originally published in 1987.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

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Lectures on the I Ching

Constancy and Change

By Richard Wilhelm, Irene Eber


Copyright © 1979 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-09902-6


Opposition and Fellowship

The Circle of Events. The Eight Basic Trigrams of the Book of Changes

If we want to understand the Book of Changes and its philosophy, we must begin with the fact that it was originally a book of oracles that answered "yes" or "no" to certain questions. An unbroken line denoted the "yes" answer, a broken line the "no" answer. But at a very early date Chinese thinking went beyond the mere oracle, and in the course of time developed this very simple method into a method of comprehending the world. While in Europe pure Being is taken as fundamental, the decisive factor in Chinese thought is the recognition of change as the essence. The Chinese position is a middle one between Buddhism and the philosophy of existence. Buddhism, which regards all existence as no more than illusion, and the philosophy of existence, which regards existence as real behind the illusion of becoming, are, so to speak, polar opposites. Chinese thought endeavors a reconciliation by adding the element of time. For when two incompatible conditions meet in time, they become compatible by following each other in time, the one changing into the other. This, then, is essentially the idea of the Book of Changes: opposition and fellowship are produced together by time.

But why is it necessary to assume opposites as a basis? Because practical experience teaches that everything we know moves in opposites. Indeed, the presence of opposites is necessary for experience to take place. There must be contrast between subject and object, for otherwise consciousness, or the knowledge of things, is altogether impossible; contrast between light and dark allows sense impressions to occur. Contrasts must exist for consciousness to be kindled. However, according to the Book of Changes, these opposites must not be regarded as enduring, but should be seen as changing states, which can pass from one into another. And because of this, contrast as such becomes relative. The point is merely to find the proper attitude for the understanding of contrast. By reaching such a position, a person no longer clings to one pole and assigns to the other a negative, opposite position, but, flowing with time, he can experience contrast itself. The stress here is on an inner adaptation to these outer opposites. If one maintains a harmony between the inner self and the surrounding world, the world, in spite of all diversity, can do no harm. This is perhaps Confucius' central contribution to the Book of Changes. Among China's sages, Confucius is described as the most timely. According to one of his statements, man's concern should not be to assume a fixed attitude that is forcefully maintained under any circumstances. An inflexible attitude naturally produces its opposite, perpetuating the battle. Since in accordance with this law of change, the moment of victory is also the moment of the turning point, neither side can achieve a conclusive victory. Rather, man should be in harmony with his surroundings; when prosperous, his conduct should be that of a prosperous man; when poor, his conduct should be that of a poor man; and when among barbarians, his conduct should be that of a man who is among barbarians. In this way every position in life is balanced by creating a harmony between the inner self and the surrounding world.

To create this kind of harmony, it is essential to find the proper position. And this proper position is in the center. Time, it was stated, is the necessary ingredient that enables us to experience opposites; and experience, in fact, is only possible if contrast is encountered. But we see now also the importance of not being borne along by time alone, for time cannot become reality, unless we have a resting point from which to experience it. As long as we are tossed and torn from moment to moment, reproducing a phantasy of our past in the imagination, or anticipating the future with fear and hope, we are merely objects among many such objects. Mechanically propelled by our fate, like all other purely mechanical objects, we are moved here and there by thrusts and counterthrusts. How ever, if we succeed in experiencing time, including its opposite from a central point of view, rather than withdrawing from it, then the circle will begin to close, and we can experience time as perpetuity. This consists precisely in time becoming harmonious. Only in this sense can we understand the statement from the Doctrine of the Mean, "Effect central harmony," a statement which, in fact, expresses the secret of the Confucian doctrine.

In discussing the opposites recorded in the Book of Changes, we must first of all understand that they are wholly abstract. To be sure, individual images contain symbols, but behind each image we perceive an endless mirroring of reflections. I want to give only one example for such an image: the yin symbol. Yin may be the wife, but can also be the son; it can be the minister; and, under certain circumstances, it can be emotional elements as opposed to intellectuality. However, yin may also be the vegetative nature of our being, the anima as opposed to the animus. Inversely, it may be the masculine aspect in the woman, the aspect every woman contains within herself as a derivative. In short, it is always that element which is not primary, but somehow derived. Opposites are formed in this way. Relationships are present everywhere; fixed concepts are of no consequence, but the relationship of concepts — the functioning of concepts within which opposites move. Opposites provoke one another, and for this very reason they can be made to harmonize.

In the Book of Changes, T'ai Chi — is represented as the basis of all existence. T'ai Chi is the Supreme Ultimate, the entrance into the phenomenon, the One, or, in other words, that something from which, as in the West as well, everything else is assumed to proceed. However, the secret that the Book of Changes expresses is that as soon as the One is established, its opposite is also created. Goethe said once that every emphatic statement immediately produces from within itself a contradiction. The case is the same here, for if the One is fixed in space by a line, its opposite appears. Now space is divided into an above and below, or when the line is placed horizontally, a right and left, or front and back. The sixfold extension of space, as it is termed in Chinese, is given with this one line and with its position. The establishment of this line results, furthermore, in the appearance of polar duality, which is the primary positive pole designated by an undivided (yang) line and the secondary negative pole designated by a divided (yin) line. Together with the originally established line, we obtain a triad as the basis of reality. Therefore, we read in the Tao Te Ching: "One produced two; two produced three; three produced the ten thousand things."

The beginning of the phenomenal world is the establishment of these concepts. And no-action [wu-wei], which is important in Taoist thought as well as in Confucianism, is not quietism in our sense, but is the readiness to act the part in the phenomenal world assigned to man by time and his surroundings.

The possible combinations of the three divided or undivided lines is two to the third power, which equals eight, or 23 = 8. Therefore, the Book of Changes uses, for all further illustrations of the energies that fashion reality, these eight possible, primary symbols, or basic trigrams (Pa Kua).

By designating the yang line as strong, and the yin line as yielding (respectively positive and negative), we obtain the following eight trigrams from their combinations.

The first trigram is Ch'ien, [??], the Creative. The three undivided lines of Ch'ien are strong. Ch'ien, then, is the Strong, the Undivided, in which inheres the tendency to strive forward without deviating. K'un, [??] [??], the Receptive, with its three divided lines, is the opposite of Ch'ien. And if Ch'ien is considered as time, then K'un is space. Time is one-dimensional, and it always moves forward. For Ch'ien, the Creative, there is no backward movement, although the movement can stop. If it grows weak, it simply ceases, but as long as it moves, the movement is forward. K'un, the spatial, does not move, or rather the movement of K'un is an internal one. The motion is conceived as a self-division, and the state of resting is thought of as a self-closing. Hence, the movement of K'un is never directed toward an object, but motion closed within itself.

These two principles, the Creative and the Receptive, are the basic opposites present in the world. God and nature, as Goethe would call it, although Heaven and Earth is a more familiar image with which to coordinate this pair of opposites. But we must always keep in mind that they are only images, in no way rigidly fixed, and they function as reference points for thoughts. Everything must constantly move, change, and remain fluid. And so, for example, one image can be spiritual, the other material; within spirituality one image can represent the intellectual aspect, the Creative, whereas the other may be the affective. There are endless perspectives, and the significance always lies in the relationship in which these trigrams may stand to each other.

Ch'ien, [??], as the father and K'un, [??] [??], as the mother are coordinated with the six children. The mother now takes one line from the father, the Creative, and hence our first image is the oldest son, [??], who accordingly resembles the mother. (In keeping with this idea, the sons take after the mother, and the daughters after the father. Of course, one could also speak of grandparents, and so on.) The second son is [??] and the third [??]. The daughters are exactly the reverse of this. The oldest daughter is [??], where the father principle is on top, and the crucial line is feminine. Next are the second daughter, [??], and then the youngest daughter, [??]. Altogether we now have:

[??] Ch'ien, the Creative

[??] K'un, the Receptive

[??] Chen, the Arousing

[??] K'an, the Abysmal

[??] Ken, Keeping Still

[??] Sun, the Gentle

[??] Li, the Clinging

[??] Tui, the Joyous

The oldest son. Chen, [??], is volatile energy, the Arousing; electricity as moves, for example, in the ground at the beginning of spring.

This energy is transferred to a different area in the second son, K'an, [??]. Now it is water and, to be specific, water in motion: "Toward Heaven it rises, from Heaven it descends, perpetuallv changing." It is the waterfall that rushes downward, is pulverized, rises high above again as clouds, and descends once more as rain. This is the Abysmal, that knows no limitations and unhesitatingly plunges into the depths. The movement is shown by one central active line, limited by two divided lines.

The movement reaches its boundary in the third son, Ken [??]. Keeping Still, the Mountain. Here the strong line is above and the yielding ones below. The movement is oriented toward vegetation, for in China the mountain exists within a completely different conceptual context than in Europe. In China the mountain is seen as part of the surrounding world; as part of the forests, which grow on it; as part of the plants it permits to sprout; as part of the animals that reproduce upon it, and as part of the clouds, which are dispatched to supply the country with the necessary moisture. The mountain is considered as a center of life. And this is precisely the idea at the basis of Ken, Keeping Still. In this trigram the Heavenly is concentrated on earth, as it were — below the terrestrial and above the celestial — and therefore the atmospheric influences are drawn toward earth and life becomes harmonious.

The movement is similar in the three trigrams that represent the daughters. The first is Sun, the Gentle, Penetrating. The image here is the wind. Wind is that which penetrates into all grooves, and although it does not do so by force, wind is present everywhere because it is incorporeal. It may be of interest to compare Sun with its opposite trigram, Chen. Chen, [??], is the electrically rousing, the thunder (we would say "lightning" in Europe, although both mean the same thing here), whereas Sun, [??], is the intrusion of air. Sun tends more toward the material than Chen, and therefore the way in which it moves is also different, even though Sun too, is a very mobile element. It is not active, but in adapting itself is rather reactive. Sun clings, and being pliant, succeeds in its energetic efforts. Sun, for example, is also wood, the roots of which [as a tree] penetrate everywhere, and by attaching to everything bring up the life-sap from the earth.

The trigram Li, [??], has a very interesting configuration. Here the strong lines are outside and the dark, yielding line is inside. The image is the flame, the Clinging. A flame cannot exist independently, for the flame can only be seen where there is combustible matter. We should observe how dynamically these processes are comprehended in Chinese thought. In Europe, elements such as fire were thought of as substances until only recently. There was the substance of air, the substance of fire, the substance of water, and the substance of earth. Such notions were prevalent throughout Europe. But in China fire is thought of otherwise. Fire is not a substance but an event, and its occurrence is based on its relationship to other things. The flame exists because wood is present. Therefore, clinging to something also means being based on something, hence, Clarity, Light. This once more is the opposite of K'an, [??] . And if we transfer the concept to cosmic realms, we see something unique. For now it is the sun that is dependent on Heaven. Although it is considered by us as the source of light, in China the sun is not thought of as primary. Rather, it is a concentration of heavenly light; the light shining on the earth is concentrated in the sun. But the sun itself is dependent on the power of heaven. K'an is considered to be the moon within this framework. Correspondingly, there are in China concave mirrors that "bring the fire of the sun down," and convex mirrors that bring "the water of the moon down." (We are dealing here with a misconstrued natural occurrence, for, when on cool autumn nights a smooth mirror is pointed toward the moon, the water of the dew will naturally gather on it. And similarly. fire will gather on the reflector if it is pointed toward the sun.)

The movement culminates in the youngest daughter, Tui, [??], the Joyous. Here the yielding line is above, and the strong lines are embellished by the yielding line. Tui symbolizes a smiling mouth, smiling and joyous, but although joyous, nonetheless imbued with melancholy. As a consequence there is another interesting relationship: Chen as spring and Tui as autumn. Autumn is joyous; it is the time of harvest, the time when the fruit of the field is brought home. But autumn, notwithstanding its joyousness, is also the time of judgment. Autumn is the beginning of death. Hence, concealed in this final, gilding joyousness is a certain severity; still hidden, but deep within already present. The symbol of Tui in nature is the lake — not the lake as water, but the lake as shining, mirroring phenomenon, such as the lake at the foot of the mountain (Tui is also associated with metal). Tui can also be vapors that rise from the lake and spread over the earth: non-mobile water, misty water, the lake, or the swamp. In other words, all those aspects of water that differ essentially from K'an, the symbol of active water. Tui is the resting, or reposing aspect of atmospheric water. Ken, [??], rests in the terrestrial realm, but obtains vitality through heavenly aspects. Tui, [??], in contrast, is the resting aspect of atmospheric water, which is made joyous by terrestrial affairs. These, then, are very characteristic opposites.

The eight trigrams found in the Book of Changes are arranged in differing sequences according to the views that govern them.

A suggestive meditation diagram, representing the process of life in its closed series of recurrent changes, is found in an old mantra in the Shuo Kua, Discussion of the Trigrams, Chapter II , section 5.

The diagram here shows the cardinal points and hours of the day according to the European conception (north at the top).


Excerpted from Lectures on the I Ching by Richard Wilhelm, Irene Eber. Copyright © 1979 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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